Special Report: Shearings stands proud

Jane Atkins, Shearings Holidays’ managing director, talks to Samantha Mayling about the operator’s strategic changes and ‘Pride’ values

What have you achieved in your first year at Shearings?

It’s been really busy. I feel lucky to have joined a great brand, with some amazing people.

We’ve made strategic changes, with moving offices in Wigan being key.

Our new offices are open plan, which engenders greater team spirit.

Team members see and hear their colleagues and can help solve problems. It provides a real ‘can do’ atmosphere.

Building on the team culture was our sponsorship deal with Wigan Warriors.

The rugby team is a perfect match for us, mirroring our culture of adopting ‘Wigan First’ as far as employment goes.

Many colleagues are supporters and staff see the players at HQ, and get match tickets and access to the team.

Captain Sean O’Loughlin came to the offices to deliver flowers to our UK planning manager, Stephanie Greenwood, who worked tirelessly during Storm Emma to help affected customers.

We also launched our ‘PRIDE’ values, so all employees, however far-flung, are part of a shared vision.

We changed reservations systems, and will move to Inspiretec for our winter 2018-19 programmes and beyond.

This gives more scope for more varied modes of transport, and better product presentation online.

We’ve launched our Grand Tourer standalone brochure; split our UK and Europe programmes; and created a new family programme.

Next year will build on 2018’s successes, providing more ‘reasons to travel’ and developing touring products.

How did the ‘This Is Shearings’ peaks campaign do?

Our post-Christmas sales campaign was the most successful yet, with calls to our call centre up 51% and more web traffic and sales through our agent website than ever before.

Our agent toolkit was well received by agents, as it makes selling domestic coach travel easy.

Sales for summer 2018 are ahead of last year.

Why is the events tour programme doing so well?

Customers are looking for a sneaky break, and a ‘reason to travel’ such as an event will often capture their imagination.

Terracotta Warriors is possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and Strictly just captured the imagination.

How can you help agents dispel misconceptions about coach tours?

We need to get the message across that escorted touring helps ‘make the difficult, easy’.

It offers the ease of a coach and confidence that everything is planned.

It is about getting close to a venue, in a timely fashion without having to worry about traffic, travelling times or parking.

Often it can mean timed access to events such as Terracotta Warriors, so that they don’t have to queue with the masses!

What trends do you see in the over-50s market?

The over-50s are keen to experience something different, so we introduced our ‘Lands End to John O’Groats’ Grand Tourer itinerary.

They’re keen to do more, hence new excursions such as our Lake District Mountain Goat tours.

Also, we will have 450 more upgraded rooms in our own hotels in 2018.

How is the fundraising going for the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Scotland?

It is early days, but we’ve had lots of small events and raised more than £10,000 – 10% of our target. We will do larger events this summer.

How do you see the deal with Hearst UK developing?

This is an interesting, unique partnership that delivers new, exciting product such as the Country Living Hotels.

We are thinking of mother-and-daughter weekends and tasting breaks with drinks such as prosecco or gin, or specialist food weekends.

We will look at themed weekends with other Hearst publications, such as Inside Soap and the Emmerdale tour for example, staying at Country Living Hotel Harrogate.

Do you go holiday with Shearings in the UK?

I have visited half of the portfolio so far, some on holiday and some on business.

I love the outdoors, so my choice will be our hotels that are close to areas that are great for exploring by bike or by foot.

Hotels in the south are on the South West Coastal path; Chollerford is near the amazing scenery of the Northumberland Coast and Hadrian’s Wall; and, of course, there is the beautiful Lake District.

You are also chair of the Truly Independent Professional Travel Organisation. What are your plans for Tipto?

We are launching our first Tipto Ambassadors programme. Key independent agent supporters will be elected as ambassadors to spread the word about what Tipto.

The Supershows are being refreshed with Graham Balmforth as host, and we will ensure we are offering relevant information in a fun way.